Soundtrack Picks: ‘HARDLY WORKING ‘ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR MARCH 2012
Also worth picking up: Borderline, Casa Di Me Padre, Casino Royale, Columbus Circle, Electra Glide in Blue, It’s Alive, Planet of the Apes and Sherlock
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
1) CASINO ROYALE – 45th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (1,500 edition)
What is it?: At the height of 1960’s Bond mania, Charles K. Feldman tried to get into the act with an 007 Ian Fleming story not controlled by “official” producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli. When he couldn’t do a straight up adaptation with their star Sean Connery in tow, Feldman’s decision was to turn a solo spy property that was already stirred with tongue-in-cheek humor into a completely shaken, all-star screwball spoof. Out went the sophisticated, slow-moving danger jazz grooves of John Barry in favor of Burt Bacharach’s lunatic Shagadelia, as given the blaring, Latin-accented comic energy of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. While this 1967 film remains a love it or hate it proposition (though thankfully with a more straight-up Daniel Craig redo to follow), “Casino”’s Oscar-nominated soundtrack has remained the rowdy, and romantic epitome of kitsch cool. While “Royale”’s original “best of” album has come out numerous times over the ensuing decades (with better sound each time), it’s still somehow taken 45 years to release the actual score. Now Quartet Records pays Bacharach’s most popular, and zaniest work the kind of tribute you’d expect for an authentic Barry Bond score. Yet it’s a complete “Casino” that also reveals a thematic method to Burt’s madness that even his more suave compatriot would have to acknowledge.
Why should you buy it: Treating Bond’s world like one big bachelor pad, Bacharach’s work is even more of a garish delight here, wallpapered with the inimitable melodies that have been ingrained in our pop consciousness since the original “Casino” album. Those riffs pop up with cartoon anticness here, from the main brass theme to Bond’s off-kilter marching band and the seductive “Look of Love,” arguably the most beautifully conventional music in the score. But even that melody brilliantly escalates with Latin action for “Vesper’s Kidnapping,” showing the kind of anything-goes genius that makes this cue my favorite bit of business in a kitchen sink soundtrack that even has in-jokes to Barry’s “Born Free” and Bacharach’s “What’s New Pussycat.” Playful ethnic music also abounds to propel the multiple Bonds from one exotically seductive location to the next, be it with Indian sitars, Scottish bagpipes, or blarting German brass, Yet the luxury of these 58 minutes shows that the ever-active Bacharach could have downtime just as well with the mysterious “Mata-Hari School for Spies” and “The LSD Room,” all before the climactic hoe-down of Native American percussion, player pianos and Alpert brass for “The Big Fight At Casino Royale,” easily one of the zaniest musical mash-ups in scoring history.
Extra Special: Following in the footsteps of La La Land’s double-CD release for another star-filled bit of insanity called “It’s A Mad Mad Mad World,” Quartet puts the original, tighter album release alongside the real deal. While the film tracks’ sound remains audiophile, the label has done of yeoman’s job at cleaning it up as best they can (a la their release this month of David Lee’s even more ancient score to “The Masque of the Red Death”). But the rabid height of Quartet’s obvious love for all goofy things “Casino” is plain for the eye to see in a beautifully designed, picture-filled 64-page booklet, with liner note writer Gergely Hubai telling fans everything they always wanted to know about “Royale”’s ego-tastic production and mind-shattering music, but were afraid to ask. It’s enough to make even the most fervent following of the true Bond cannon give this very experience piece of outsider 007 art its props.
2) HARDLY WORKING
What is it?: Sure the overhyped “Artist” won the Oscar for Best Score. But even that movie’s French makers will likely admit it’s all about Jerry Lewis when it comes to comedy genius, whether the shtick has talk or not. This man of a million zany faces gave his composers ample opportunities for musical merriment, especially in the case of Morton Stevens’ accompaniment for the one-man unemployment office of 1980’s “Hardly Working,” its pratfalls sweetly embodied by the kind of musical storytelling that could just as well be placed into the effort of any silent funnyman.
Why should you buy it?: More famed as a television composer for such shows as “Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” let alone as the guy who wrote the theme for “Hawaii Five-O,” “Hardly Working” gave the prolific boob tube composer one of his rare chances to score a theatrical feature. And upon listening to this wonderfully melodic soundtrack, it’s amazing that Morton Stevens didn’t get more chances on the big screen. “Hardly Working” is a gem of old-school comedy scoring, when it was about playing a gag’s humorous arch, as opposed to having an orchestra hit every single joke. With a lushly thematic orchestral and brass band sound that brings to mind John Morris’ work on “Silent Movie,” Morton Stevens puts his sad sack clown theme through its clever paces, from the lurching horns and ding-dong doorbells of an inept mailman’s delivery to a way politically incorrect Japanese chef, capturing his multi-handed knife work with an Asian spin on “Madame Butterly” that proves to be this soundtracks’ inspired highlight. Like Chaplin, Lewis dared to throw unabashed empathy into his slapstick, music that always laughs with “Hardly Working”’s inept hero instead of mocking him, an approach that’s downright heroic for the rousing bunny march that accompanies the “Parade of the Clown Mailman.” By then end, Morton Stevens’ score is more of an affectionate smile than it is outright guffaw, and all the more of a melodically pleasurable listen because of it.
Extra Special: Like all legendary comics who tried to be “with-it” for changing times, “Hardly Working” has some fun pop and disco interludes, along with a pipe organ theme and an unhinged brass band that tries to play “When the Saints Come Marching In,” with their funniest bit seeing the inept players completely break down with the helter-skelter speed of “Crazy Clown Music.” But best of all, “Hardly Working” reveals a comedy scoring genius in Morton Stevens. It’s enough to make you wish that Buysoundtrax would also put out Stevens’ score for Lewis’ “Cracking Up,” let alone his music for alone for Johnny Yune’s “They Still Call Me Bruce.”
3) IT’S ALIVE
What is it?: Bernard Herrmann’s time apart from mainstream Hollywood certainly brought him some mightily lurid material to apply his classy Gothic sensibility to, among them the “mongoloid” manic of “Twisted Nerve” and the homicidal twin that made up one part of the Siamese “Sisters.” But perhaps no exploitation flick that lucked into Herrmann’s still potently sinister talents had the hook of featuring a killer mutant baby.
Why should you buy it?: Credit shlock movie maestro Larry Cohen for coming up with the goods to nab the cantankerous Herrmann, who seemed to throw caution to the musical wind in the winter of his years- whether that meant employing a whistling theme for “Nerve” or blasting shrill synths for “Sisters’” (though to be fair, he certainly had his share of classy thrillers during this time like “The Bride Wore Black” and “The Night Digger”). But what’s surprising for the outrageousness of “It’s Alive”’s high concept monster is the often sedate approach that Herrmann took for it beyond those crazy wah-wah synths, creating beds of plucked guitars and ominous strings before jumping in for the piercing, chew-toy kill, with pained strings effectively acknowledging a parent’s worst nightmare. Though this was likely the smallest creature he’d ever scored, Herrmann’s score here is more notably in the territory of his soundtracks for Ray Harryhausen, using the kind of brass effects he’d applied to the likes of “Mysterious Island” and “Jason and the Argonauts” to suggest a leviathan at rest hour.
Extra Special: “It’s Alive” certainly doesn’t reach the sinister chamber music heights of “Psycho.” But while this might be relatively minor work in Herrmann’s repertoire, what distinguishes the soundtrack is its neo-militaristic, noir-like percussion, making the music play at times like a bizarro run up to the far more prestigious brooding he’d bring to “Taxi Driver,” the movie that would take the composer out on a high note (don’t even think about hearing the lushly elegant thrills of “Obsession” here, though there is a bit of that score’s organ). Likewise Film Score Monthly, as the label draws towards its end of days with this cult release (Herrmann’s orchestrator Laurie Johnson later adopting his themes for “It Lives Again”). Though this album often has archival sound quality, “It’s Alive” is worth seizing in the crib for Herrmann fans that admire the composer’s more unnerving exploitation efforts.
4) SPEED (3,000 edition)
What is it?: Few soundtrack labels have rejoiced in putting out the rhythmically trend-setting scores of the 80’s and 90’s like La La Land Records, their explosive beats including the killer calypso groove of James Horner’s “Commando,” Hans Zimmer’s twangily propulsive “Broken Arrow” Mark Mancina’s Afro-grooves in “Bad Boys” and Michael Kamen’s orchestrally operatic ho ho ho’s for “Die Hard.” If that soundtrack stands as the seminal action score of the 80’s, then it’s fitting that La La has marked their 200th release with the next decade’s landmark work of popcorn aggressiveness for a full-on edition of Mancina’s “Speed.”
Why should you buy it?: Where “Die Hard” just took place in one building, “Speed” had the high-concept of thrusting its LA thrill rides from an out-of-control elevator to a hell-bent bus and a barreling subway. Though effectively given a pop quizzing human dimension in Graham Yost’s script, what truly set “Speed”’s sound apart was the pure, mechanized rhythms that Mancina developed for the movie’s theme of transportation run amuck, a chase now given a whole new sonic dimension upon hearing the complete score’s dramatic arch. At first stripping out any feeling of organic emotion to convey a claustrophobic, bomb-strapped elevator, Mancina’s creatively metallic collection of scraping and pounding “industrial” samples become far more emotional when Keanu’s cop boards the bus, bringing with him an orchestra to fully join in with the iron and electronic samples. Topped with a memorably heroic theme, Mancina’s score conveys the daredevil thrill of desperation. “Speed’’s non-stop, thematic succession of sinister, mad bomber ambiences and rhythmic, cliffhanging beds became the new, high-tech sound that police with an attitude would abide by. And while Mancina would have fun giving his beats an even longer Caribbean workout for “Speed 2” (also on La La Land), there’s no iconic match for the grinding, musical explosion heard ‘round the multiplex, let alone Hollywood, especially in all of its full-throttle glory.
Extra Special: What “Speed” album would be complete without the Billy Idol title song? As one of the labels that tries to get every scrap of source and rock on their albums, La La Land gets extra points for finally including one of the rebel-yelling rocker’s best tunes on the album. Top it with John Takis’ justifiably enthusiastic liner notes, and this “Speed” gets every question right when it comes to what makes up one of action cinema’s most dynamic scores.
5) STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
What is it?: After “Trek V”’s search for God received a heretical box office response, “Wrath of Khan” director Nicolas Meyer was brought back into the captain’s chair to give the old cast a more fitting departure. Yet while it celebrated classic Trek to just about everyone’s content, “The Undiscovered Country” would also chance upon major new scoring talent in 27 year-old Cliff Eidelman, a composer who’d more than shown promise with the epic orchestral scores of “Magdalene” and “Triumph of the Spirit,” as well as his character-oriented comedic work with “Crazy People” and “Delirious.” Given the chance of a scoring lifetime here, Eidelman impressively brought all of his symphonic passion to bear on “VI” with a sense of throttling suspense that was unlike any “Trek” score before it.
Why should you buy it?: Just as he’d grounded the series’ indulgent special effects with “Wrath of Khan,” Meyer brought new social relevance to the franchise with “Country”’s conspiratorial, Cold War analogy as the Klingon Empire is brought to its knees- a cosmic event in the Trek universe that showed peace as the greatest threat of all. Eidelman’s score subversively takes that ridge-headed perspective, with barbaric drumming, snarling brass, Klingon chanting and an overall sense of seething, militaristic menace that makes us question, along with Kirk, if these seeming savages are really worth the trouble. Taking no small amount of inspiration from the “Mars, Bringer of War” segment of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” along with Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” Eidelman’s soundtrack has a relentlessly thrilling pace, its darkness even more threateningly evocative given Intrada’s complete release of the score. Amidst the crew’s gripping race to save their once-mortal enemies, Eidelman’s strings bring out the warmth, and vulnerability of these iconic characters, making their heroic payback against the future’s right-wingers all the sweeter when “Country” reaches its exhilarating, full charge climax, with Eidelman’s music breathlessly intercutting between the double-climaxes of a space battle and attempted assassination on the planet below. Eidelman finally provides a majestic, series-worthy swan song as his own melodies beautifully play alongside Alexander Courage’s iconic theme as The Enterprise warps off to the actor’s onscreen signatures (though it should have been their characters instead)- at least until series’ disastrous return with “Generations.”
Extra Special: Not only did Cliff Eidelman score the feature, but the composer would also be given the chance to give fans a taste of his memorable work to come by incorporating his themes into two original movie trailer scores, both of which are featured on “Country”’s long-awaited, two-CD ultimate edition, which also features the original soundtrack presentation. And of course, “Trek” music expert Jeff Bond is once again on hand to offer his sage observations on the unique impact of Eidelman’s work that heralded him as a composer of note. Here’s hoping it won’t be long before we can read Bond’s thoughts on a complete release of Jerry Goldsmith’s “Star Trek- The Motion Picture,” especially with these “Trek” ultimate editions rocketing into fans’ hands at welcome warp speed.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BEING FLYNN
Badly Drawn Boy (aka Damon Gough) once again lends his folksy, soulful talents to filmmaker Paul Weitz, going from the bittersweet song-score of “About A Boy’’s man-child to another film about regressed relationships. This time, it’s between “Being Flynn”’s aged, manic “author” and his nearly as screwed-up son, both of whom reconnect on opposite windows of a homeless shelter to Gough’s acoustically-centered stylings. While “About A Boy” became a hit album due to its bouncy songs that burst with confidant, catchy energy, “Being Flynn” is a bit more somber, its bittersweet energy playing off the cruel realities of the streets and mental illness, as well as a young hero who attempts to drug both his hurtful past, and present away. But if Badly Dawn Boy’s music isn’t quite as effervescent as “Boy”’s, “Being Flynn” reveals even more of Gough’s poetic talents as a composer and songwriter. Often backing the strumming vibe of his guitar, piano and horns with a lush wall of strings, Gough brings a subtle orchestral quality to a number of tunes, all while his thematic instrumentals inventively play the NYC blues as aching chamber music for the soul. Badly Drawn Boy poignantly gets “Being Flynn’’s point of helping one’s self across with such songs as “I’ll Keep the Things You Throw Away,” “Picking Up the Pieces” and “Let It Rain.” It’s a warm, lyrical message even when the characters are in the doldrums. This collection of often haunting melodies will likely keep “Being Flynn” as a repeating soundtrack mantra for fans who were at first enamored of a composing Boy, one who’s notably maturing into alt. composing adulthood.
Gil Melle’s coldly terrifying electronics embodied “The Andromeda Strain”’s space virus, while tumultuous strings stood for “Frankenstein: The True Story” and “Kolchak.” But these bad ass subjects pale before the almighty power of Charles Bronson, an actor whose characters usually would be pushed to the avenging edge, especially when Melle’s orchestral and electronic talents combined to cross him over the “Borderline.” This moralistic 1980 actioner was one of the first movies to deal with illegal immigration, as well as featuring Ed Harris’ debut to boot. With the only Mexican element to Melle’s score being Tijuana bar source “Borderline” comes across far more as a hidden gem in the genre of such fat brass, 70’s-era urban crime scores as David Shire’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” and Lalo Schifrin’s “Dirty Harry.” Raging jazz-funk is on tap here, with vocalese, a pounding piano, menacing electronics and a heroically dark, militaristic orchestra, all in syncopated service of The Man’s no-nonsense, growlingly macho attitude as he plays a Border Patrol agent with a conscience. But Melle’s score is also far from being a block of killer wood, with the score hitting moments of “Andromeda”-like experimentation in its electro-jazz grooves, an outside the “clam” approach that ended up with Melle making the score more conventional to appease the producers. Thankfully, Intrada’s rounded up every musical suspect here from a more traditional orchestra to bizarrely fitting synth percussion. On a par with the suspensefully groovy music that Quincy Jones and Charles Bernstein gave Bronson with for “Death Wish” and “Mr. Majestyk,” Gil Melle’s “Borderline” is a sometimes avant-garde, thoroughly happy discovery in the musical annals of a star not often given to smiling.
. CASA DE MI PADRE
It’s one thing to do a clever spoof of an inane genre, but it’s a whole other feat to pull off a soundtrack that’s at once the real musical deal (en Espanol no less) while letting the listener know its tongue is firmly planted in its ear. Will Ferrell’s hilarious “Mexican” movie pulls this feat off on all fronts, particularly with this song/ score compilation that leads with the one-two punch of having Kris Kristoferson’s narration jump into Christina Aguilera’s full-blast title ballad. The earnest, well-produced tune jokes keep on coming, from El Puma’s Spanish spin on “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” to the tender guitar lament of Ceclia Noel’s “Del Ceilo,” and the equally elegiac title tune plucking and sax of “Hermano” by Tom Ferrell. His brother’s no slouch in the golden throat department either with the mournfully Shagadelic orchestra and organ vibe of “Fight For Love,” and the “Three Amigos!”-worthy campfire beat of “Yo No Se.” But the biggest tip of the sombrero, and lion’s share of this dead-on album’s success goes to gringo composers Andrew Feltenstein and John Nau. After hooking up with Ferrell on his Funny or Die site’s short “The Carpet Brothers,” the duo explore the full-on outer limits of retro Mexican cheese scoring. It’s a potpourri of menacing electric guitar licks, rockabilly blues, plaintive Spanish guitars, Mayan ghost choirs and swooning heartfelt strings- with the highlights being a pimp funk love scene, a poetic piano for a blood-drenched “Wedding Massacre” and a bizarre, jazz-topped “Trip Out” for a groovy near-death experience. Feltenstein and Nau hit a bull’s-eye with the scoring satire in this “Casa,” right down to the static fuzz of this pseudo-LP for a Telenova revenge exploitationer, as it brilliantly exists in Will Ferrell’s gonzo imagination.
. COLOMBUS CIRCLE (1,000 edition)
While Brian Tyler reigns in Hollywood as a king of rhythmic action (as heard this month with his other soundtrack releases for “Transformers Prime” and “Brake”), it’s often the smaller, indie stuff like “The Final Cut” and “The Lazarus Effect” that reveal this prolific multiplex composer’s most effective talents. A big case in point is his suspensefully elegant score for the explosion and car chase-free “Columbus Circle,” a good little NYC-set noir homage that Tyler also happened to be a producer on, and one that winningly reteams him with writer-director George Gallo after their internet porn opus “Middle Men.” However, this DTV “Circle”’s spin is that a good chunk of it involves the cat and mouse game between an agoraphobic heiress and murderous con artists out for her fortune. Tyler perceptively gets into the isolated, and emotionally vulnerable headspace of this poor little rich woman with an aching, lonely violin and cello, with a rising orchestra and percussion luring her out of the apartment room against her better judgment. Tyler effectively varies “Columbus Circle” between this chamber music sound for strings and piano with his more familiar exercises in beds of relentlessly weaving-and bobbing percussion. It’s a taut approach that at once opens up the visual confines of this playful thriller, while also using a strongly melodic, and thematic through line to link its twisting conspiracy together. The result is as much about a thrilling heartbeat as it is about being heartfelt, a combo of Selma Blair’s classical upbringing and the muscularly percussive vibe the composer might otherwise be applying to Vin Diesel. In “Columbus Circle,” they make for best of both Tyler worlds, available via iTunes or as a hardcopy limited edition.
. ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (1,000 edition)
In the Vietnam-era cinema of “Easy Rider” and “Vanishing Point” that was all about giving the finger on the road to authority figures, one of the screen’s most unusual rebels was Robert Blake’s diminutive motorcycle cop in 1973’s “Electra Glide in Blue” – a film that also represented the remarkable one-shot directing-composing effort of James William Guercio. With a musically attuned background that included playing with every artist from Bobby Darin to Frank Zappa before managing Chicago and winning a Grammy with Blood, Sweat and Tears, Guercio translated his innate groove to the eccentric rhythms of “Electra”’s wasted Arizona landscape, as well as the swagger of a little cop trying to be a big man. Using his own stable of artists, Guercio tunes into these desert rats and outlaw bikers with memorable songs that include the yodeling country of “Meadow Mountain Top,” the classic doo-wop of The Marcel’s “Most of All” and the furious, live speed-acid rock of Madura’s “Free From the Devils.” Guercio’s also no slouch as a composer here, getting across a patriotic somberness in the proud brass and strings of “Worning,” a dissonantly ominous “Monument Valley” and the dark piano and synth “Overture,” with the groovier 70’s sound powering through the “Shaft” like funk of “The Chase.” But all musical paths will inevitably lead to the kind of shocking blast of reality that made that period’s movies so unmatched in their pure, ballsy nihilism. Guercio hears its plaintive oh-why soulfulness in the astonishing rock ballad “Tell Me,” its God Bless America yearning to “Make the world a better place for me and you” as pleading as it is ironically futile. “Electra”’s long been a deserved cult classic, especially for a deluxe, silver foldout album that stands as a hallmark in LP packaging. While Quartet can’t exactly do that justice for a CD-size release, its graphically appealing booklet and appreciative, authoritative liner notes by Randall D. Larson confirm “Electra Glide”’s street cred as one of the 70’s great, unsung pop-score soundtracks.
When Steven Soderbergh wants minimally surreal rhythms, he usually phones such eccentric operatives as Cliff Martinez (“Traffic”) and Thomas Newman (“Erin Brockovich”). Yet there’s only one musical agent he calls upon for his truly funky, mass audience-intended movies, and that’s British rocker David Holmes, the 007 with a license to kill it with his retro vibes for “Out of Sight” and three “Oceans” pictures. While Holmes channeled 60’s r & b and 70’s Euro-sploitation vibes for those hustlers and con artists, the hit girl of “Haywire” gets a groove that’s suitably more Roy Budd, channeling the lounge pop meditations of “Get Carter” with pummeling fat jazz, as spiced with the echoing, improv sound of Miles Davis. But Holmes doesn’t try so much to accompany the high kicks and karate chops of “Haywire” star Gina Carano as much as he lays a groove bed for her mad action skills- though her acting charisma is another thing all together. For this surprisingly lackadaisical movie’s sake, actually trying to play some of this mixed martial arts stuff wouldn’t have hurt. But where Holmes’ work onscreen tends to inadvertently drone with far less interest than Newman and Martinez, “Haywire”’s hip wash is far more fun and interesting as a pure listen. Revealing itself as Holmes’ most thematic score yet for Soderbergh, this soundtrack makes for an alternately mellow and high-hat kicking jam session, with evolving levels of too cool for school weirdness making for one neat badass bitch’s brew.
. I WAS A TEENAGE WEREBEAR
First there was a “Chillerama” album dedicated to Bear McCreary’s shit-kicking score for the “Zom-B Movie” segment. Now Buysoundtrax continues the love for this Troma-esque drive-in goof by going from the funkily scatological to the absolutely gay 50’s tunes of “I Was A Teenage Werebear.” Director and co-songwriter Tim Sullivan goes for a “Little Shop of Horrors” meets “Grease” vibe, as put through the “Rocky Horror” raunchy double entendre wringer for this teenage coming out tale that would likely have made Michael Landon blush. Yet “Werebear”’s tunes are far more cute fun than anything else, with numbers like “Love Bit Me on the Ass” and “Do the Werebear (and Let the Werebear Do You)” possessing a high school musical exuberance that would be right at home on a very special, late night Halloween episode of “Glee.” Sullivan not only snags a golden oldie with Bobby Vinton’s “Where Were You When I Was 17?” but also gets the legendary crooner’s son Robert to do a catchy grind for “Sexy Ways.” Patrick Copeland’s score suite further nails the unhinged period ambience with swooning romance, creature feature organs, rockabilly guitars and beach bongos. Extra juvenile geek points go to Psycho Charger’s fun title track for “Chillerama,” which uses the metal groove of ZZ Top to hilariously run-down of this quadruple bill’s horrendous events. It’s definitely enough to pack them in, in more ways than one, for the delightful doo-wop “Werebear.”
. THE LORAX
He had to jump from classical tunes to pop standards and his own manic melodies within the space a half second while playing the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Yet somehow, composer Carl Stalling’s job of melodically tying his toon music together looks positively relaxed when compared to the frantically ironic humor of today’s ADD animated pictures. But if there’s one of today’s composing generation who’s inherited the Stalling crown with a modicum of style and invention, let alone sanity, then it would be John Powell. With thrillingly manic scores for the likes of “Robots” and two “Happy Feet” and “Ice Age” pictures a piece, not to mention the Dr. Seuss’ toon adaptation “Horton Hears A Who,” there’s no better composing choice to take on that whimsical author’s most eco-minded character. Surprisingly, “The Lorax”’s music comes across as being somehow slightly less berserk and more thematic than the music he’d applied to that elephant and his microscopic pals. The charm of Powell’s approach here is that you never know what style you’re going to get next, something that’s always made every toon score of his a crazed voyage of discovery, as given rhythmic-rich structure because of his symphonic sensibility. Powell unleashes one hellzapoppin’ mood swing after the next with a stream of consciousness, pop-orchestral blasts of wild west heroism, stream-hanging thrills, pokey chipmunk voices, Latin dances and operatic choruses that make for a thoroughly energetic “Lorax” score. The fact that this craziness ends with a magically moving “Funeral for a Tree” actually manages to give some food for thought to the rest of the breezy fun. Far brasher at getting its eco message across are the songs on “The Lorax”’s Interscope Records release. Indeed, its tunes toe-tapping lyrics that decry tree-killing, fast food and gimme gimme commercialism are one big, humorous dose of double irony. Lorax”’s wiseacre numbers also capture the whimsical wordplay of Dr. Seuss, while also deftly satirizing Queen’s rock operatics and the wince-inducing overuse of Auto-tuned vocals. But if there’s one reason to salute “The Lorax”s tree-hugging score and songs, then it’s because they’ll drive those blue meanies at Fox up the biggest branch possible.
. PLANET OF THE APES (3,500 edition)
Danny Elfman has often played primal aggressiveness for director Tim Burton in such rampaging scores as “Sleepy Hollow” and “Mars Attacks.” But none of their collaborations would grab the composer’s furious instincts like Burton’s redo for “Planet of the Apes.” Sure Jerry Goldsmith had the percussive idea first when he accompanied Charlton Heston into The Forbidden Zone, but leave it to Danny Elfman to run rampant with those animalistic beats and ethnic wind instruments. While the orchestra is ever present here, it’s a swirling, unbound beast, with anything resembling pleasant melody hosed down in a cage until the climax. Grinding, pounding, screaming brass is the thrust of this “Ape” score, an approach that definitely makes this at times near-dissonant “Planet” soundtrack its own, assaultive animal in the franchise’s cannon, and the one that arguably best conveys the most nightmarish aspects of a future man never reckoned on making. Die-hard Elfman fans will certainly dig the relentlessness of it all, with plenty of chest-beating to go around over three discs in this deluxe La La Land set that captures the complete score, its alternates, and the original 2001 album presentation, with some ape easy listening music to spare. But even that weirdly intoxicating percussion is anything but pleasant to captive human ears in this massive, strikingly savage collection of notes that’s pure Elfman unbound.
The music is afoot over two series (and gradually counting) of this 21st century take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed characters, as given the revamp mojo by the BBC’s “Doctor Who” team to equal international acclaim, and an Emmy nomination (among the show’s many) for composers David Arnold and Michael Price. It’s elementary that these two would hip up Holmes’ sound for its new takes on such classic Doyle stories as “A Scandal in Belgravia” and “The Reichenbach Fall,” pretty much wiping away the once-traditional, solo orchestral sleuthing to combine strings with such neo-futuristic sounds as sampled percussion synth samples and an echoed piano, a fresh approach that firmly puts Sherlock and Watson into the era of modern day detective work. It’s intriguingly throbbing, invigorating stuff that bounds between the eerie and the playful, conveying the constant, deductive whirring of two brilliant minds as well as their quip-filled relationship. Yet as determinedly present-day as Arnold and his own musical Watson make “Sherlock,” the composers are sure to bring such 19th century instruments to the fore as the cimbalom and the Holmes’ violin fixation, giving a rhythmically energetic approach to the dynamic duo that nicely links their TV Sherlock to Hans Zimmer’s steampunk vibe for the movie detective on this side of the pond. Silva Screen’s separate CD’s for Series One and Two are captivating listens, with the “best of” approach for the first album leading to suites from “Belgravia,” “Reichenbach” and “The Hounds of the Baskerville” for the second entry, music that shows Arnold and Price as getting even cleverer at bringing new, pulsating life to an iconic, trench-coated character, whilst thankfully not forgetting his legendary musical past.
. THE WEDDING BANQUET (Expanded Soundtrack)
Taking the kind of “Three’s Company-meets-disapproving parent set-up that had made for so many lowbrow situation comedies, Chinese director Ang Lee put himself on the international film map with this gay charmer, a “Wedding Banquet” which also marked a major step up for NYC indie composer Mader (“In the Soup”). Creating one of the first mainstream scores to notably blend Asian instruments with a hip Manhattan sensibility, Mader’s culture clash between morally old school mom and dad with their offspring’s vivacious energy deftly uses long, virtuoso passages for the poetically simple sound of ancient winds and strings, as cutely interplayed with Cha Cha themes, the accordion, classical piano pieces and Mader’s delicate score for the bruised, yet ultimately reconciled feelings in this gentle comedy of manners – all while oft-times using Chinese rhythms in the off-kilter ways that distinguishes the composer’s ethnically inventive approach (which you can hear on Perseverance’s best-of-Mader collection “Cinemusica”). First hitting CD in 1993 from Varese, Perseverance’s new entrée includes the entire score, allowing “The Wedding Banquet” to fully achieve the intimacy, humor and emotion that lies within the smallest scoring fortune cookies, one which foretold way bigger things for Lee and the eccentrically fruitful scores of Mader to follow.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes, Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande